A Tale of Two Economies

Our economy bifurcated somewhere in the late 80s/early 90s when first mobile phones became available and then in the mid 90s when email became available. Since, the divergence has magnified considerably as mobile phone technology became smaller and more powerful, and as the internet became larger and equally powerful.

The first economy is the ‘old’ economy, the economy upon which we have grown ever since mankind developed forms of exchange of workmanship. This economy of workers producing valuable and desirable products and services for consumption is changing the landscape of our world… from malls of all sizes, to legions of delivery trucks driving throughout residential areas dropping off what was once purchased in store to what has become purchased online. The distance between production and consumption – the supply chain – has shrunk and with technology, the chain continues to shorten as consumers gain greater and more direct access to producers. The era of the middle man is ending. The process of creative destruction is well underway in industry but the full effect has not been felt because of banking and political policies which have been implemented to prevent – at all costs – the wildfire which is needed to clear the forest of deadwood, the fire which would provide the ash for new growth. Subsequently, the ‘old’ economy is being held back from new growth by armies of zombie companies which have continued to crawl out of their graves (e.g. Sears/Kmart) time and time again due to financial wizardry.

The second economy is not necessarily a new economy, but it is one that without technology would never have exploded to the impact that it has today: the Attention Economy. Correct, an economy based not on the production of anything valuable, instead based on attention… as in the number of ‘likes’, ‘followers’, thumbs up votes, and so forth. At one time, this Attention Economy was known as sales & marketing and was limited to those companies with the budgets and the means to engage Madison Ave Advertising firms. In the past, you would have to have a gargantuan budget in order to ‘get attention’ for your product or service, case in point, 30sec ads during the Super Bowl would cost millions upon millions of dollars. Why? Because there was a time when Super Bowl ads were guaranteed to get the ‘Attention’ of the average American so the value of advertising your product or service was immense.

It all changed with the platform of both mobile technology and the internet, and liberated by apps such as Youtube, and the entire host of social media applications. Now advertising and marketing firms are in the process of losing their grip on the market because they no longer are the gatekeepers to the average Americans attention. The typical person skips through TV commercials, doesn’t listen to old fashion radio stations nor the ads played on them, nor does the typical person read a paper newspaper or glossy magazine anymore. Everything is online… which means our ‘attention’ is entirely online.

Its not an entirely new economy because the Attention Economy existed in the past with mainstream media (i.e. TV & radio ads, etc…) but what is new is that as the end consumer we now have far more control than ever before. In the past, we had to sit through commercials because there was no option not to sit through commercials. In the past, we were subjected to advertising and marketing; but now we have the option to opt out.

But this is not the aspect of the Attention Economy that is of interest at the moment; what is of interest is the fact of what we have done now that we each have the ability not only to opt out but to create our own advertising and marketing.

All of a sudden, with apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram every single person has become their own advertising agency. We woke up one day to realize that every single person seems to have registered themselves on some social media app and has taken to ‘advertising and marketing’ not products and services as in the old economy, but advertising and marketing themselves… as in their life, actually worse… as in what they are eating at this instant, what they are wearing, what they are thinking… as if anyone actually cared or cares, but they did it with such enthusiasm and energy that we figured the world does care. With that we all jumped on thinking that advertising and marketing our lives online… mattered.

Then it went to an entirely new level where it wasn’t good enough just to advertise and market your life, it became a competition. Now every aspect of our live is up for grabs… was your meal as superb as others posted on line, what about your latest clothing and accessory purchases, what about your car, your music, your hair, your make up, everything is a competition.

And we are suffering as a result.

Suffering from trying to keep up with an endless stream of uploads and posts and pictures.

Suffering from trying to keep one step ahead of who we consider our competition.

Suffering from spending our energy, our lives on meaningless time wasting pissing contests which amount to nothing yet drain our existence out of us… and we wonder why we are unfulfilled, unsatisfied, empty, and exhausted.

Anger, anxiety, depression, and a long list of other mental and emotional health challenges are skyrocketing in prevalence. As people we are becoming dysfunctional not only in relating to one another, but even in relating to ourselves. By competing with everyone else on every possible aspect of our lives, we no longer engage meaningfully with anyone, we compete to see if we can one up them in some way. Few remain with any connection to reality, to their direction and purpose in life as the many have become so wrapped up in this endless competition of lifestyle advertising and marketing that they have literally lost themselves to the battle.

We used to seek the attention of others because we had something of importance, of value, because we had created something that we wanted to share, that we thought others would benefit from, because we had something we believed would help others.

Today, we seek attention for no other purpose but for the sake of attention. Like toddlers who lost the attention of their mother or father for an instant, we resort to any and typically an incendiary action in order to regain attention… from anyone! Because we see others getting attention, for fear of not getting any attention ourselves, we are raising the stakes and ramping up the means which use to get attention.

No longer is positive attention the sole goal.

Attention, period is the goal. Any attention.

For what, from whom… doesn’t matter.

All that matters is getting attention.

For no other purpose than because everyone else is doing it.

Think about it.